As the gleaming Andretti Autosport transporter makes a stop on the journey to its next race, someone occasionally will approach the rig and ask, “Are you THE driver?”
Grant Haughawout directs them to Marco Andretti’s picture on the side and points out the truth.
Haughawout, though, is the driver who makes the driving possible for Andretti. He and Kyle Tetlow operate the transport responsible for getting Marco’s cars and equipment from the team’s Indianapolis facility to the 17 races on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, plus tests at many of those tracks and others in the off time.
The big rig is a conversation piece, to say the least.
Haughawout (pronounced “How-it”) drove Danica Patrick’s transporter when she was with the Andretti team. It was a magnet for attention.
“Is Danica in there?” he would hear often. Most of the time he would politely say no, that INDYCAR drivers fly to and from races.
“Although one time I said, ‘Yeah, she's in the back of the trailer but she’s taking a nap right now,’” he said.
This is a dream job for the 45-year-old, whose journey into the driver’s seat was almost as circuitous as his routes around the country during the season. He graduated from Carmel High School in Indiana and attended college at Western State Colorado University in the early 1990s with an eye on becoming a fully certified ski instructor.
“But that’s a seasonal-type job and you’ve got to be kind of a nomad and maybe move to a place like New Zealand,” he said. “I figured out that it wasn’t a realistic goal.”
Haughawout moved back to Indianapolis and got a job in a bar, assisting bartenders and working as a DJ. The bar owner, Fred Treadway, is the former Verizon IndyCar Series team owner who won the 1997 Indianapolis 500 with driver Arie Luyendyk. Treadway needed help transporting a show car for promotional appearances at races. Haughawout gladly rode along and helped with everything he could.
“That was my first gig and we ended up winning that race. It was cool,” he said. “I knew then that I wanted to do more on the team, but that meant either learning how to work on the car or doing something else. I’m not super mechanically savvy, so I figured the best way to get a shot was to be a truck driver.”
He got his commercial driver’s license two years later and his career hit high gear. He joined Andretti Autosport in 2008 and remains fascinated with transporting some of the most precious cargo there is.
“There’s a lot of people’s work in your hands, probably $3 million worth of cars and equipment,” he said. “You’ve got to think of the time it took for all the guys to put the stuff together when you go down the road. You can’t become too complacent.”
Haughawout gets a lot of thumbs-up from race fans who see him on the road, and occasionally a thumbs-down, plus plenty of people who pull beside the transport and cruise alongside.
“You’ve got to realize that you are a traveling billboard,” he said. “Not only do you have your sponsors’ names on the side of the truck, you have ‘Follow us on Facebook’ and ‘Follow us on Twitter’ on the back. You’ve got to be aware of that all the time and be respectful to other people.
“A lot of times people will pull up and realize they’re beside a really cool race transporter with really cool pictures on the sides. They’ll slow down and hover right next to you. You’d like to get into the next lane, but you’ve got to realize these people are probably taking pictures and sending them off to their friends. This isn’t your average freight truck going up the road.”
In order for Marco Andretti to complete more than 4,100 race miles on the schedule this season, Haughawout and Tetlow, his driving partner, will log more than 10 times that many.
“It’s about 50,000 miles, and then there is testing,” Haughawout said.
There’s a lot of back-and-forth in this job, with trips from the team facility in Indianapolis to a race, back to Indy, then to a test or another race, then home again. And again. And again.
There’s much more to a truckee’s job than just driving to and from the races. At the track, Haughawout is responsible for getting tires mounted, pressured, measured and sorted for Andretti’s race car. Tetlow’s main duty away from the transport is to set up and tear down the pit equipment at the track.
“Your weekend is just beginning when you get there,” Haughawout said. “It’s not like you’re sitting back watching the race. Right away, you’re at it.”
During a race, Haughawout stays behind pit wall making adjustments to tires as Andretti’s engineer, Nathan O’Rourke, dictates.
The early months this season were a long haul, with races at Long Beach, California, Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama and Phoenix, plus tests at Sonoma, California, Texas Motor Speedway and Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis -- all in less than a month's span.
The first week of May, Haughawout got back home again. In Indiana. Finally.
The month of May brought considerable work with the INDYCAR Grand Prix in Indianapolis to start the month, plus a week of practice, a weekend of qualifying and, on May 28, the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. But it also gave Haughawout a chance to spend a month at home with family before he hit the road again for the final 11 races.
Haughawout and his wife Erin have two boys, 11-year-old Cooper and 10-year-old Cameron. He values every moment he can spend with them.
“I met my wife while doing this, so that’s a bonus. She didn’t know anything other than this,” he said. “God bless her. She works and has two kids. Honestly, in the summertime she’s a single mom.
“The offseason is when you make up for lost time with your family. The good thing, especially with Andretti Autosport, is they give you a fair amount of time to do those makeup things, to go on a vacation and spend time with your family. The boys both enjoy motorsports and they think Dad’s got a cool job. It’s not like I’m hauling hangars down the road in a freight truck.”
Almost everybody thinks it’s a cool job, especially those Haughawout meets on the road.
“People will ask, ‘What do you have to do to get a job like this?’ It’s knowing the right people and applying,” he said. “If a team needs a driver and you have a good driving record and a good work ethic, that’s what it takes. I don’t want to say how many hours we work in a normal week, but if you average those out, guys driving freight down the road are probably making more money. It's got to be a love of yours. The reason I’m still here is because I enjoy it.”
Haughawout returned from Detroit late Sunday night following the doubleheader race weekend at Belle Isle Park. Once Andretti's No. 27 Honda is prepped for superspeedway oval racing and loaded into the transporter, he and Tetlow are on the road to Texas Motor Speedway for this week's Rainguard Water Sealers 600. They'll arrive Thursday morning to park and set up, along with the rest of the teams' transporters. Practice and qualifying are Friday, ahead of Saturday's race.
The Rainguard Water Sealers 600 airs live at 8 p.m. Saturday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.